Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Georgius (43), patron saint of England
Georgius (43), M., Apr. 23 (Μεγαλομάρτυς, Bas. Men.); traditionally the patron saint of England, a military tribune and martyr under Diocletian at Nicomedia, A.D. 303. He was a native of Cappadocia and of good birth. Some time before the outbreak of the great persecution he accompanied his mother to Lydda, in Palestine, where she possessed property. As soon, however, as he heard of the publication of the first edict (Feb. 23, 303), he returned to Nicomedia where, as some think, he was the celebrated person who tore down the imperial proclamation, and then suffered death by roasting over a slow fire (Eus. H. E. viii. 5). [DIOCLETIAN.] The earliest historical testimony to the existence and martyrdom of St. George is an inscription in a church at Ezr᾿a or Edhr᾿a, in S. Syria, copied by Burckhardt and Porter, and discussed by Mr. Hogg in two papers before the Royal Society of Literature (Transactions, vi. 292, vii. 106). This inscription states that the building had been a heathen temple, but was dedicated as a church in honour of the great martyr St. George, in a year which Hogg, by an acute argument, fixes as 346. (For another view, however, which assigns the inscription to 499 see Böckh's Corp. Inscript. Graec. ed. Kirchhoff, t. iv. No. 8627.) His name occurs again in another inscription in the church of Shaka, 20 miles E. of Ezr᾿a, which Hogg dates a.d. 367. (Böckh, l.c. No. 8609, cf. 8630; for other instances of transformations of heathen temples into churches and hospitals in the 4th and 5th cent., see Böckh, l.c. 8645, 8647.) The council assembled at Rome by pope Gelasius, a.d. 494 or 496 (Hefele, Concil. i. 610, iii. 219, ed. Paris, 1869), condemned the Acts of St. George, together with
those of Cyricus and Julitta, as corrupted by heretics, but expressly asserted that the saints themselves were real martyrs and worthy of all reverence (cf. Pitra, Spicil. Solesmen. iv. 391, for a repetition, three centuries later in the East, of this condemnation by the patriarch Nicephorus, in his Constit. Eccl.). Thenceforward the testimonies to his existence rapidly thicken, but decrease in value. Gregory of Tours in the 6th cent. mentions him as highly celebrated in France, while in the East his cultus became universally established (cf. Fleury, H. E. xxxiv. 46) and churches were erected in all directions in his honour, one of the most celebrated being that built, probably by Justinian, over his tomb at Lydda, whither his relics had been transferred after his martyrdom. This church still exists. (For an engraving of it, see Thomson's Land and Book, ii. 292; cf. Robinson's Biblical Researches, iii. 51–55, with Le Quien, Oriens Christian. iii. 1271, for full particulars of St. George's connexion with Lydda.) Another is at Thessalonica; described in Texier and Pullan, Byzantine Architecture, pp. 132–142, where strong reasons are given for assigning its erection to Constantine (cf. Procopius, de Aedif. iii. 4, ed. Bonn).
The Medieval Legends.—The Arians of the 5th cent. seem to have corrupted his acts for their own purposes. Their story is that he was arrested by Datianus, emperor of Rome, or, according to others, of Persia, by whom he was in vain ordered to sacrifice to Apollo. The magician Athanasius undertook to confound the saint. After various attempts the magician was converted and baptized, as well as the queen Alexandra. After many miracles and various tortures, St. George was beheaded. It is strange that, notwithstanding the decrees of Rome and Constantinople, this Arian corruption became the basis of all subsequent legends, and even found its way into the hymns of St. John Damascene in honour of St. George (Mai. Spicil. Rom. t. ix. p. 729; Ceillier, xii. 89). The addition of a horse and a dragon to the story arose out of the imaginations of medieval writers. The dragon represents the devil, suggested by St. George's triumph over him at his martyrdom (cf. Eus. Vita Constant. iii. 3). When the race of the Bagratides ascended the throne of Georgia at the end of the 6th cent., they adopted St. George slaying the Dragon as part of their arms (Malan, Hist. of Georgian Ch. pp. 15, 29). The horse was added during the Frankish occupation of Constantinople as suitable, according to medieval ideas, to his rank and character as a military martyr. St. George was depicted on a horse as early as 1227, according to Nicephorus Gregoras (Hist. Byzant. viii. 5), where will be found a curious story concerning a picture in the imperial palace at Constantinople, of St. George mounted upon a horse, which neighed in the most violent style whenever an enemy was about to make a successful assault upon the city. The earliest trace we can now find of the full-grown legend of St. George and the dragon, and the king's daughter Sabra, whom he delivered, is in the Historia Lombardica, popularly called the Golden Legend, of Jacobus de Voragine, archbp. of Genoa, a.d. 1280, and in the breviary service for St. George's Day, till revised by pope Clement VIII. Thence it became the foundation of the story as told in Johnson's Historie of the Seven Champions of Christendom, and the old ballad of St. George and the Dragon, reprinted in the third volume of Percy's Reliques, many features of which Spenser reproduces in his Faëry Queen. Busbecq in the 16th cent. found in the heart of Asia Minor a legend of the Turkish hero Chederles, to whom were ascribed exploits similar to those of St. George (Ep. 1, pp. 93, 95, ed. 1633), and he found Georgian Christians venerating above every image that of St. George on horseback, regarding him as having conquered the evil one (Ep. 3, p. 209).
Connexion with England.—St. George's story was well known in England from the 7th cent., most probably through the Roman missionaries sent by Gregory. Arculf, the early traveller, when returning to his bishopric in France, was carried northward to Iona, c. 699, where he told the monks the story of St. George, whence, through Adamnan and Bede, it became widely known in Britain. St. George has a place in the Anglo-Saxon ritual of Durham assigned to the early part of the 9th cent., pub. by the Surtees Society a.d. 1840, and among the publications of the Percy Society we have an Anglo-Saxon Passion of St. George, the work of Aelfric, archbp. of York a.d. 1020–1051, ed. by Hardwick a.d. 1850, in whose preface is much interesting information on this point. His special fame, however, in this country arose immediately out of the early Crusades. William of Malmesbury (Gesta Reg. Angl. ed. Sir T. D. Hardy, ii. 559) tells us that, when the Crusaders were hard pressed by the Saracens at the battle of Antioch, June 28, 1089, the soldiers were encouraged by seeing "the martyrs George and Demetrius hastily approaching from the mountainous districts, hurling darts against the enemy, but assisting the Franks" (cf. Gibbon, cap. lviii.; Michaud's Hist. of Crusades, i. 173, ed. Lond.; on the military fame of St. Demetrius see Böckh, Corp. Inscrip. iv. 8642; Du Cange, Gloss. i. 974; Texier, op. cit. pp. 123–132). This timely apparition at the very crisis of the campaign led the Crusaders, among whom were a large contingent of Normans under Robert, son of William the Conqueror, to adopt St. George as their patron. During the campaigns of Richard I. in Palestine, St. George appeared to him and so became a special favourite with the Normans and English (Itin. of Richard I. in Chron. of Crusades, ed. Bohn, p. 239). In 1222 a national council at Oxford ordered his feast to be kept as a lesser holiday throughout England. He was not, however, formally adopted as patron saint of England till the time of Edward III., who founded St. George's chapel at Windsor in 1348. In 1349 Edward joined battle with the French near Calais, when, "moved by a sudden impulse," says Thomas of Walsingham, "he drew his sword with the exclamation, Ha! St. Edward, Ha! St. George, and routed the French" (cf. Smith's Student's Hume, cap. x. § 8). From that time St. George replaced St. Edward the Confessor as patron of England. In 1350, according to
some authorities, the order of the Garter was instituted under his patronage, and in 1415, according to the Constitutions of archbp. Chichely, St. George's Day was made a major double feast, and ordered to be observed like Christmas Day. In the first Prayer Book of Edward VI. St. George's feast was a red-letter day, and had a special epistle and gospel. This was changed in the next revision (Ashmole, Order of the Garter; Anstis, Register; Pott, Antiquities of Windsor and History of Order of Garter, a.d. 1749). The influence of the Crusades also led to St. George becoming the patron of the republic of Genoa, the kingdoms of Aragon and Valencia, and to the institutions of orders of knighthood under his name all over Europe (cf. AA. SS. Boll. Apr. iii. 160). In N. Syria his day is still observed as a great festival (Lyde, Secret Sects of N. Syria, Lond. 1853, p. 19).
Controversy.—The consentient testimony of all Christendom till the Reformation attested the existence of St. George. Calvin first questioned it. In his Institutes, lib. iii. cap. 20, § 27, when arguing against invocation of saints, he ridiculed those who esteem Christ's intercession as of no value unless "accedant Georgius aut Hippolytus aut similes larvae," where, unfortunately for himself, he places Hippolytus in the class of ghosts or phantoms together with St. George. Dr. Reynolds, early in the 17th cent., was the first to confuse the orthodox martyr of Lydda with the Arian bp. of Alexandria. [GEORGIUS (4).] Against him Dr. Heylin argued in an exhaustive treatise (Hist. of St. George of Cappadocia), giving (pp. 164–166) a very full list of all earlier authors who had referred to St. George, including a quotation from a reputed treatise by St. Ambrose, Liber Praefationum, which is not now extant. The controversy was continued during the 18th cent. Dr. Milner wrote in defence of the historical reality of St. George, provoked doubtless by Gibbon's well-known sneer in c. xxiii. of his history. See further Mart. Vet. Rom., Mart. Adon., Mart. Usuard., which all fix his martyrdom at Diospolis in Persia (cf. Herod. ed. Rawlinson, i. 72, v. 49, vii. 72); Hogg, however, well suggests the Bithynian town of that name, which was in the Persian empire under Cyrus (Pasch. Chron. ed. Bonn, p. 510; Sym. Metaphrast.; Magdeburg. Centur. cent. iv. cap. iii.; Ceillier, xi. 404, iii. 58, 89, 297; Alban-Butler, Lives of Saints; Malan, Hist. of the Georgian Church, pp. 28, 51, 54, 72; E. A. Wallis Budge, The Martyrdom and Miracles of St. George of Cappadocia: the Coptic texts ed. with an Eng. trans., Lond. 1888).